On the Facebook News Feed Algorithm Changes and Why Short-Form Content Will Be Just Fine

August 25th, 2014 by Tony

Facebook announced today that is is making some changes to its News Feed algorithm to combat clickbait. Primarily, the social network will be looking at how much time people spend reading away from Facebook.

“If they click through to a link and then come straight back to Facebook, it suggests that they didn’t find something that they wanted. With this update we will start taking into account whether people tend to spend time away from Facebook after clicking a link, or whether they tend to come straight back to News Feed when we rank stories with links in them.”

Focusing on attention and time is nothing new for Facebook. On its last earnings call, Facebook specifically spoke about the size of their market opportunity in terms of the available time and attention they were able to accrue. On a more practical note, Facebook has been factoring how much time people spend away from Facebook after clicking on an ad into its pricing algorithm for some time now. In some ways, the news today is simply a wider application of that action.

Second, the decision to enable greater previewing of links, effectively giving the visitor more information to decide whether the content is interesting to them, potentially confirms a theory that Chartbeat’s data science team has held. On average, traffic from Facebook spends about 60% more time reading than traffic from Twitter. While there are likely a number of factors in this, the more sophisticated previewing in Facebook is a clear differentiator that we think affects this.

Take together these two actions confirm that Facebook is taking its users’ experience incredibly seriously and are leaning more and more on the fundamental concepts of the Attention Web to do so. That’s good news for quality publishers everywhere.

But what does this mean for great short-form content? The one potential challenge to this was raised by Matt Galligan of the excellent news service Circa:

It’s utterly logical to be concerned that content designed for brevity would suffer under this algorithm. However, I think this underestimates the comparative wealth of attention that even content designed to be brief gets. The depressing truth of the Internet is that short-form content hangs out on the same end of the distribution curve of the Internet as long form when it comes to attention.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the majority of pageviews on the internet get fewer than 15 seconds of engagement. Facebook is looking for those incidences when people come ‘straight back’ to the feed, suggesting that the threshold they’ve set for clickbait may be rather low. If your content matches the intent of your headline (ie. you’re selling what you’re promising), then you’re highly likely to beat Facebook’s threshold even with short form.

Bottom line: Focus on creating quality content, match it with an accurate headline, and you’ll be fine.